In today's world we are bombarded with noise. In the urban areas, we live with the constant hum of the traffic on the highway; car horns on the streets. In the rural areas, we live with the constant distant natural noise of developers and hunters. In our offices, we live with "white noise," a constant hum that camouflages the voices and conversations of employees in an open area. In our homes we live with the constant distraction of TV, children, cooking, and water running. Our lives are noisy. Even when we retire to the quite place in the woods in the crevices of our souls, we find noise. Our minds replay the noise and distractions of life and we relive the various sounds of the day. Our lives are filled with noise, and in silence our mind replays the sounds of our day.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus left the noise of the city, the crowd, and retired to a mountain with John, Peter, and James. They, too, were inundated with noise: crowds shouting, people talking, and the sounds of carts and horses in the city. Jesus led his faithful followers to a quite place, settled their souls, and an amazing Transfiguration occurred. In silence, in the quietness of their souls, John, Peter, and James experienced the Transfiguration of Christ. His disciples saw Jesus surrounded in light, talking to Moses and Elijah. What a radiant remarkable spiritual enlightenment! In fear, needing to do something, the impetuous Peter broke the silence. When he did so, the amazing vision disappeared; the experience ended. Peter had interrupted the conversation with God; he had ended an astounding communication.
We are busy doing a variety of things! We do ministry, we work in soup kitchens, and we want to be "Doers of the Word" for others. Those acts are important; doing ministry is at the heart of being a Christian. However, we can not effectively be "servants to each other in Christ" (Eph. 5:20), if we ourselves are not nurtured. We can not be messengers of the Gospel if we ourselves do not take the time to read scripture and listen to God's words in our hearts. It is in our silent prayer with and to God, that we regain our strength, and see the revelation of the presence of God.
Martin Smith, in his book The Word is Very Near You, describes prayer as a conversation. "Preachers have a habit of urging us to listen to God's voice, but we seldom get any guidance about what this listening is suppose to consist in." We pray and then, in silence, we listen. But listening is not an easy task. Before we can hear, we must first address the issues and concerns of our hearts. Smith, who is an urban priest and monastic, an ardent student of the Desert Fathers, a person who embraces an ascetic theology and is a distinguished spiritual director, once described his experience in prayer as a process. "In order to clearly hear the Holy Words of God, I must first pray, my clumsy inadequate prayer, and then I must go through my laundry list of listening. My mind goes through the events of the day, what I should be doing instead of praying and what I will be doing after I complete this prayer. Finally, after I have gone through this mental exercise of mental gymnastics, I hear the silence. It is only in that place of quietness in my soul and in my mind, I can actually have a conversation with God. I am now ready."
Praying is not an easy task. It takes practice, time, and patience. We can not rush to prayer and from prayer and expect to hear God and experience the Holy Spirit in a microsecond. The Psalmist understood the need to wait for God, in silence. "Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord". (Psalm 27:14 NRSV). Waiting for the Lord is not an easy task. Those of us who have experienced a long-term illness understand how to wait for the Lord. God moves us to understanding by allowing our physical bodies to break down, to stop. It is only when we stop, that we can hear and engage God in Silence.
Women who have experienced childbirth truly understand waiting for God in silence. The body of a woman changes in pregnancy: silently a great gift develops in the womb. An infant is formed who will, as a newborn, greet the loving parents who contributed to the wonder of this new life. God is ever present in each stage of growth, and guides the child into this world giving him/her the kiss of life. At birth God breaths the breath of the Holy Spirit in Silence into the lungs of the newborn child.
Waiting for God means being available to God in Silence, means meditating on the Word of God, means seeking a deeper meaning and understanding of God in our lives. God is available to each of us. Those of us who teach need to meet Christ in silence as well. Regardless of our place in the life of the church-as deacon, bishop, layperson, or priest-if we are not silent in order to speak with God, we can not complete our work in the vineyard.
Elijah was a Doer of the Word. In the Old Testament lesson for today, we meet Elijah on the run for his life. Certainly his faith has failed him as he flees from the city, seeking God's protection from a powerful woman -- Jezebel. Elijah, a man of great faith, has described himself as zealous for the Lord, yet he is hiding in fear of being killed. He seeks God and fails to find the voice of God in the mountains, "nor in the breaking of the rocks in pieces," nor in the wind. Elijah did not find the voice of God in the earthquake nor did he hear God in the fire. After Elijah experienced the physical nature of life, he settled himself, and refocused his thoughts in silence. It was in the "sheer sound of silence" that Elijah finally heard the voice of God. It was in that silence that Elijah was prepared to receive the message from God.
Prayer is the most powerful vehicle we have to communicate with God. Listening in silence, we can hear God and witness the Transfiguration as Peter, John, and James did. Focusing on God in silence, we learn to wait for the Lord, we develop courage and strength. Stop "doing" and take time to pray in silence! In silence we can discern God's direction for our lives, and follow our path with Christ. Pray in silence, listen in silence, and be available in silence-and God will direct your life and your ministry.